By Courtney Thomas
Amazon Prime’s The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a fairly mediocre addition to the streaming platform’s offerings. It manages to be charming, but ultimately is a trite film that takes no risks. Part coming of age drama, part rom-com, part science fiction, the movie is another entry into the genre of time-loop films, this time directed by Ian Samuels with a screenplay by Lev Grossman based on his short story of the same name.
Teenager Mark (Kyle Allen) finds himself in a “temporal anomaly,” where he is the only one aware that he is in an endlessly repeating day. Living in a small town, he enjoys himself for the first thousand or so days. Moving through his surroundings with the confidence of foreknowledge, he blows off summer school, joyrides in construction equipment and anticipates the requests of his neighbors, helping them before they ask. These smoothly choreographed sequences are a pleasure to watch, but despite his grace and unlimited time, Mark can’t seem to score with a girl he sees every day at the pool. During one of his attempts to impress her, he notices another girl he’s never seen before, who, like him, also seems to be looping in time. After their meet-cute, she disappears before they can talk, sparking a fascination in Mark.
Her name is Margaret (Kathryn Newton), and despite her initial disinterest in spending time with Mark and her mysterious appointment every day at 6pm with a guy named Jared, the two become friends. They spend their days together, and Margaret, who wants to someday work for NASA, helps Mark improve his math skills. With more time than they know what to do with, they whimsically decide to map all the special moments they’ve encountered around town: a hawk catching a fish, an expertly executed skateboard trick, a group of bikers stopping to let a turtle cross the road. These are the titular “perfect things.”
What follows is mostly a story about friendship. Margaret’s character rides the line of Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory but avoids falling into the trope. She initially thinks it’s better to be friends than to strike up a romance with Mark, but predictably, they end the film with a kiss. The science fiction details are kept light, and as the kids try to figure out what is causing the time loop, they acknowledge some of the film’s predecessors, including Time Bandits, Groundhog Day and Doctor Who. The tone throughout is sincere, and if you give in and let it carry you along, it’s a sweet film.
Eventually Mark learns to care more about people other than himself and improves his relationship with his dad, and Margaret becomes ready to move on from the day in her own way. Her interest in physics helps her discover that the way out is connected to the “perfect things” she and Mark have been documenting, but she hesitates to break the cycle. The third act reveals why Margaret has been running off every evening and why she’s hesitant for the repeating day to end. Her mom has cancer, and it may be her last day to live. The time loop situation is, it seems, a magical intervention by the universe to help her cope.
The script says that the film is Margaret’s story, but she is not the protagonist. The plot is about Mark realizing that the situation is not primarily about him. Rather than delving into Margaret’s experience of grief, the story focuses on Mark as an empathizer. In the deepest terms, the movie is about the two characters’ relationship to time. The conflict is between Margaret, who is unwilling to lose her mother (the previous generation) and Mark, who is unable to claim his future, because of the time loop and his family’s pressure to study something practical instead of the art he is passionate about. Nevertheless, the film makes the inevitable love story between Mark and Margaret only part of a larger story of healing.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is ideal for fans of The Fault in Our Stars. If you are willing to embrace sappiness, you’ll enjoy it, but it resembles The Big Sick without the humor, plus a dash of light sci-fi. The film gets enough right that it isn’t mockable, but it isn’t particularly inspirational either. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is about a repeating day, and yet it is in many ways itself a repeat of other movies. Nevertheless, it is watchable, and might resonate with the younger end of the YA audience. If you find yourself with infinite time, give it a watch, but otherwise it’s just another forgettable coming of age romance.